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Pyle: Religion provides a good excuse for being good. Or bad
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you are only a decent human being because you are afraid of what others might think of you, then you are not a decent human being. And "others" in that sentence includes whatever supernatural deity you may choose to invoke.

But if you are a decent human being who believes in God, or can make a good show of it, it can make it a lot easier to act out your human decency.

Many folks, and some governments, will be less likely to doubt you, tax you, question your motivations or call you a soft-headed wuss.

And if you are a poor excuse for a human being who believes in God, or can make a good show of it, it can make it a lot easier to act out your moral poverty.

Many folks, and some governments, will be less likely to doubt you, tax you, question you motivations or call you a hard-hearted troll.

Not that the exemption is total, in either case.

Pope Francis drew a lot of attention last week when he came out with a paper that criticized both the world and the Catholic Church for being too worried about things and status and not worried enough about helping the poor and working for peace.

The nut graph from his lengthy Apostolic Exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel" reads to some of us as nor more than a simple statement of fact:

"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

The immediate reaction among many media-spouting folks was either to accuse the pope of being a Marxist or to explain in some detail why he is not.

It's about as silly a question as, "Is the pope Catholic?" Because the labels matter less than the man and the beliefs that actually get carried into action.

Francis, aka Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is most likely just what he has always been. A fellow from Buenos Aires who, by all appearances, worries about the poor and the victimized and, in order to do something about it, became a Catholic priest.

Yes, it is possible that Francis became a priest and only then decided that he cared about the poor.

But the amount of pleased and displeased surprise that has followed his statements suggests that his concern is the core of what he is, not what the church told him he should be, and that his posts, previous and current, are a means to actually get things done.

In Utah, more than 100 religious leaders of almost all stripes have joined in making a statement similar to the pope's. A full-page ad in the Nov. 20 Tribune and Deseret News called upon Gov. Gary Herbert to go ahead with the full expansion of Medicaid that is federally funded — but, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's baby-splitting ruling, not required — for each state.

Their call was made in the name of their faith, but argued in hard numbers.

The ad, in language that could just as easily have been signed by 100 atheists, pointed out that state's own paid consultant figured out that full Medicaid expansion would serve some 123,000 people, generate 3,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in economic activity, reduce state costs and generate as much as $160 million in tax revenue.

Could have been signed by 100 atheists, or nominal believers, but wasn't.

Was signed by more than 100 folks who, it would seem, knew what the right thing is, and drew the courage to say so from their joint faith.

I said religions of "almost all stripes" signed the statement because the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was conspicuous by its absence.

That was likely not so much disagreement as it was the commendable LDS preference to at least appear not to be directly involved in politics.

That's the problem with being the dominant faith in any political subdivision. It is hard to do the main thing that makes religion worth having — speaking truth to power — when you are power.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, would be happy to accept tax-exempt status for expressing his views.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate

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